Growing Container Gardens: Baby boomer hobby for health and satisfaction

You’re a gardener who loves drama and variety. Can you achieve that in your small yard or are you doomed to a wilting flat of pansies in an oak barrel? Planning, selection, and good design produce lush, lovely gardens in any size space or even in containers. I know, I only do small projects so the workload stays moderate.



Gardening is a perfect hobby for over-50’s for so many reasons. Workload can be heavy or light, aerobic or not, just as you like.

In small plots, you can experiment. Create something that matches your personality. Create drama or romance. A disappearing path around a corner draws your visitor, even if they just follow with their eyes. Small, inexpensive statuary scattered in front of tubs, pots or plots can create stories or just a theme. Try leading visitors’ eyes to areas of color with flags or knick knacks.

Use your imagination and tickle your left brain- be wild. Abandon inhibitions. Surf the Web for classic gardens designs, then downscale them to fit your space. Choose plants with beautiful scents or brilliant color to attract butterflies.

Mass one type of plant in a big tub, or intermingle several that feel right to you and please your eye. It’s your garden. Forget rules about tall in front or using limited colors in small spaces.

Keep your mind open to unusal containers. Wooden boxes are wonderful. Oak tubs, too – but tip them on their side with a spill of pansies onto the lawn. Be concerned about drainage and, if you live in areas with cold winters, make the tubs light enough to move around so you can bring them in. Plastic is a good light weight choice. Group containers to make a small space look lush. Put them on different levels – high, low. Viney or stalky

Ask your nursey about recent dwarf and mini-varieties of old favorites, like petunias, pansies or herbs. Dwarf shrubs can be potted and so can palms.

Do the ground work first, though. No amount of fertilizing and pruning will make up for poor soil preparation. Mix mushroom compost or any organic matter loosely on top, two to four inches deep at least. Turn it in as much as possible. If you can get to 12 inches deep, good. Break up the soil.

Good quality prepared potting soil is critical. Garden soil is too heavy. The vermiculite and compost in commercial mixes saves you preparation time. And drainage is as important as soil quality. If there aren’t holes in the sides and bottom of your containers, drill some. If the pot is your grandmother’s priceless heirloom and you can’t bring oyurself to drill into the bottom, use packing peanuts, or large gravel in the bottom third,

Shredded hardwood bark is good mulch for the first year – then the plants take over and do the job. Over mulching after that first season can be harmful.

Weed and prune as needed, but choose easy-care plants that don’t need too much pruning. Good management techniques keep things tidy. Deadhead flowers like daisies, mums and roses.

Using a balanced fertilizer every couple weeks is helpful. In containers, watering depletes nutrients, so a slow-release in the soil gives spectacular results. Watering container gardens is critical, too – they dry out easily. If the soil two inches down is dry, add water. In warm weather or a warm climate like California or Florida, monitor your containers carefully for moisture or you’ll lose those plants. Plastic containers help hold in moisture, clay pots dry out quickly.

For plants in the ground, water well while they establish and then wean them from watering so they can tolerate a little neglect. No misty sprinkling, it causes fungus. Water deeply to force roots to spread and thrive in their environment.

Once you’ve prepped your beds, watch the area for a few days. See where water gathers, how the sun falls, where the shadows are. See if the area is windy or more sheltered. Be observant so you can make intelligent choices. Local plants chosen for heartiness in specific conditions will likely be more successful. Select plants that can handle your ocal weather conditions. Shade loving plants don’t do well in the hot weather typical of the south, tropical plants can’t handle snappy weather in the northeast, desert plants would hate Michigan’s chilly bogs and boggy plants wouldn’t flourish in Arizona. Ask your mail order or local grower for recommendations.

Even the smallest garden, in a container or in the soil, can excercise your green thumb and nurture your creativity. Working in a small space doesn’t mean throwing in the trowel. Talk with staff at the nursery all through your project, from shopping to harvesting your blooms. Cozy little gardens are a very trendy hobby – with all the resources in the marketplace, it isn’t difficult to succeed.